In Praise of Built to Spill's "The Weather"

“The Weather” is the dreamy and evocative final track on Built to Spill's 2001 release Ancient Melodies of the Future, and it's a song that's certainly no "dud".

In an otherwise lively, judicious, and conversant article that ranked Built to Spill's albums from worst to best, Stereogum critic Chris DeVille took a departure from sound judgment with this puzzling perspective: he referred to "The Weather" as a "dud". At the risk of being dramatic, let me state that prior to this I'd never heard or read anyone venture a slighting word about "The Weather". I may have stood quiet had tamer language been used, but "dud" represents a bridge too far.

For those unaware, “The Weather” is the dreamy and evocative final track on Ancient Melodies of the Future, the Idahoan indie-rock act's 2001 full-length. As a whole, the album doesn’t amount to much more than solid and enjoyable -- especially coming on the heels of heady, near-flawless heavyweights like Perfect from Now On and Keep It Like a Secret -- but it does boast some stand-out moments, including "Strange", "You Are", and – yes – "The Weather".

Though BTS leadman Doug Martsch hasn’t written many ballads, preferring detailed and searching reflections on everyday goings-on, the mysteries of existence, and God, “The Weather” is just the kind of love song you’d expect him to write. It’s very human and compelling; it conceals as much as it reveals; and it contains one unforgettable line.

The line: "As long as it’s talking with you / Talk of the weather will do". What a gem. It should be cloying, but Martsch’s oh-so sincere voice makes it sound straight from the heart. In his handling, the saccharine becomes the sublime.

Much of the lyric finds Martsch tenderly addressing a dear someone who’s likely his wife. He sings of the wonders that belong to the natural world and the cosmos - snow, stars, sunshine - yet he can’t escape this conclusion: "None of those would matter much without you."

On this level, "The Weather" is a song of settled and content love. Martsch isn’t trying to prove his affection or win someone back. Rather, he’s already there, he’s already home. He just wants to be side by side with his wife so he can bask in what they've built together. It’s an at-ease and mature love.

Yet there’s also an undertow of melancholy and uncertainty that’s hard to shake. What to make of this series of lyrics toward the end? "Nobody’s hoping for better days / No one knows what to do / You’re okay in your secret place / No one bothering you". These are oblique and impressionistic details that seem haunted by something wistful. But maybe not. It’s hard to pin down. Either way, we can’t know exactly how this cryptic section fits into the broader narrative. Martsch keeps us on the outside looking in. (And this is to say nothing of the hard-to-decipher questions that Martsch asks in the verses.)

Sonically, "The Weather" encourages a more ambivalent reading. It builds and builds, from a calm acoustic strum to a mutedly buoyant full-band performance to a tangled and echo-y closing stretch that plays like a distant atmospheric occurrence. As the pace builds, so does a murky sense of urgency. By the end, it feels like daylight has completely faded, and something unexpected may be at hand.

Yet Martsch doesn’t change tack amidst this uptick. In fact, he just stays put: "I might save time / If I meet you there / But I don’t care / I’d rather wait for you". It’s another expression of love that combines the small-scale with the deeply-felt. Against the backdrop of the night sky's expansive beauty, it makes for a perfect scene. Not to mention, a perfect little song.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.